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Senators debate $40M loan project for the upgrading of the Caracol Road

The Senate met today in Belmopan. The morning session focused on the OPEC Fund for International Development forty million US dollar – Upgrading of the Caracol Road Project, Phase 1 Loan Motion. Through this project, the Government of Belize aims to improve the connectivity and accessibility between the George Price Highway and the Caracol Archaeological, through the upgrading of the Caracol Road. The loan will finance the upgrading of 42.5 kilometers of roads and related infrastructure which represents 91% of the total cost of the works component of this phase of the project. The Government has agreed to cover the remaining 9% of the total cost as counterpart contribution of approximately three point nine six million US dollars. The motion did not have the support of the Senator for the Private Sector Mark Lizarraga while concerns were raised by PUP Senator Anthony Mahler and Union Senator Elena Smith.

Mark Lizarraga, Senator: Mr. President I absolutely in good conscience cannot support this investment at this time. The Belizean business community, the economy, the taxpayers absolutely do not need to add to its debt burden today. We need to be looking at ways to save money, to cut the cost of big expensive incompetent and corrupt government.

Anthony Malher, PUP Senator: “We have to look deep within us to say is it worth it at this time and again what is the return on investment? Are we serious about making lives better for the people of Belize? I don’t think so because a project like this just puts additional burdens on the economy, puts additional burden on the business community, puts additional burdens on the people of Belize. In total $90 million dollars for 26 miles of road. Now I got some figures last night just to see how many people are going to or visiting Caracol and over the last two years from what I gather from the BTB and Archeology Department you’re talking about 9,000 people. So have the experts looked at how many people it will take to pay back this $90 million.”

Elena Smith, Senator: “We are concerned and we want to be ensured, to know that we are going to be getting value for money. This is a lot of money to be spending, especially in the kind of climate that we have right now and so it has to be somewhere where value is received for money being spent. We are also concerned as it relates to systems that may be in place Mr.President. We are not sure whether the Ministry of Works has the technical expertise to be able to monitor all of these works to ensure that we are complying with specifications provided and that kind of thing . We are also concerned with the matter of the Auditor General’s Department- are they equipped to be able to audit construction projects? We believe that there needs to be some little bit more that this department needs to be able to do and they need to be better equipped to do proper auditing of these projects.”

And while those senators did not support the loan motion, UDP Senators Dr. Carla Barnett and Stephen Duncan and Church Senator Ashley Rocke expressed their support for the loan motion.

Carla Barnett, Senator: It’s not only for access to Caracol. We call it the Caracol Road because that is where it goes and we are building on an existing pathway, an existing road but it is not only a particularly for the expansion of tourism. It is for a larger purpose.

Stephen Duncan, UDP Senator: “It is a well-established fact that we are carrying today Mr.President quite a bit of debt that did not contribute positively to our economy and our country that had accrued under the administration of 1980 to 2008. and that is an established fact. But I think the question becomes that even as those debts impact our debt to GDP ratio, naturally it is a debt, the question still becomes, do we take all our resources to service those debts that are doing nothing for us and did nothing for us? Rather than try to find other ways for us to live and survive. We cannot shut down everything and shut down our country to put all our resources to service the super bond. We still have to live.”

Ashley Rocke, Senator for Churches: “The payment will start in 2023 if I’m not mistaken. So what it does is that it gives us five years in which to as a people, I would not want to stand here and declare that the Belizean people are lazy and they are not going to get whatever they have to get done that giving five years to perform like was said if you look at today now the climate doesn’t seem to afford that kind of thing but we are talking about five years from now and I’m certainly convinced that the Belizean people have shown over and over that we are resilient and that we are able to resize like the phoenix from the dusts. So with these factors, with these thoughts relating to the loan and talking to my colleague I am convinced that this is a good loan and despite the presentations made here by some of us we agree that its a good loan so we want to support this motion.”

According to documents, the loan is for a term of 15 years with a five years grace period. The interest rate is set at 2.5 percent per annum.